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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

The Caps showed exactly what Evgeny Kuznetsov means to them by giving the budding star an eight-year, $62.4 million contract over the summer. The team has a top center in Nicklas Backstrom, but Kuznetsov has the talent and ability to be a top center and this contract ensures he will one day take that mantle from the 29-year-old Backstrom.

Kuznetsov's NHL career has already seen its ups and downs. The 2015 postseason looked like a breakout performance for the young Russian with five goals and two assists including the series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders. He followed that up with a 77-point season, but fell silent in the playoffs with only two points in 12 games. He started the 2016-17 season slow, but erupted in January and was named the NHL's first star of the month and was able to score 10 points in the 2017 postseason.

RELATED: CAPS CHIP IN TO HELP VICTIMS OF HURRICANE IRMA

So what Kuznetsov should fans expect to see this season? That will depend somewhat on how he's used and who plays beside him. One issue facing him is the fact that he lost not one, but both of his wingers from last year's second line. Gone are Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams so Kuznetsov will have to adjust to playing alongside two different players. But will he be adjusting on the second line or the first?

Based on the contract Washington just gave Kuznetsov, it's clear they see him as someone with top-line talent. They have also seen the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup the past two years by spreading their through the lineup. They could perhaps decide to move to Kuznetsov on the top line this season or they could keep him on the second line and move Alex Ovechkin down to play on the wing. Or they could switch Backstrom and Kuznetsov based on the situation. Or they could do none of those things and just have Kuznetsov play with Andre Burakovsky or Jakub Vrana/Tom Wilson.

Whether it is this year or in the near future, clearly the Caps see Kuznetsov as a top playmaker. The 2016 postseason also showed this team cannot be successful if he does not produce. He is incredibly important to the Capitals and now he has the contract to prove it.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen

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The Capitals hung out with a bunch of dogs and puppies and it was great

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NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals hung out with a bunch of dogs and puppies and it was great

The Capitals had just about the best kind of afternoon anyone could have: They hung out with a bunch of dogs and took some pictures together. 

The team had its annual Caps Canine Calendar shoot Monday, and, of course, the photos from it capture some of the most adorable images of the players and their four-legged friends. While we'll have to wait for the actual calendar to come out to see everyone's perfect poses and smiles, here are a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos of the Caps and their pups. 

MORE CAPS: Where Washington falls in the latest NHL power rankings

MORE CAPS: Ovechkin says he expects to be fine after injury scare

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What does Andre Burakovsky's injury mean for the Caps?

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USA TODAY Sports

What does Andre Burakovsky's injury mean for the Caps?

While the Caps got some good news on Alex Ovechkin, the outlook wasn’t as positive for Andre Burakovsky on Monday.

Burakovsky, who suffered an upper-body injury late in Saturday’s game, could be sidelined, according to Coach Barry Trotz.

“I think he’s going to miss a little bit of time,” Trotz said after Monday’s practice, adding that he'll know more on Tuesday.

RELATED: DON'T PANIC, ALEX OVECHKIN SHOULD BE JUST FINE

Without Burakovsky, the Caps’ forward lines were as follows:

Tom Wilson – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Alex Chiasson
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Jakub Vrana
Nathan Walker – Jay Beagle – Devante Smith-Pelly

The changes include Chiasson moving to the second line, Vrana dropping to the third and Walker drawing back into the lineup.

As for Burakovsly, the nature of his injury remains unclear. The 22-year-old winger, however, appeared to hurt his left hand in the closing minutes of the Caps’ 4-1 loss to the Panthers. After drawing a hooking infraction, he removed his glove and began flexing his hand.

MORE CAPITALS: AFTER ROUGH START, CAPS NEED A SPARK OUT WEST

If Burakovsky is unable to suit up—the Caps make stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary later this week—Washington would likely recall Chandler Stephenson from Hershey, Trotz said.

The Caps have 12 forwards, but the team would not want to be on a five-day trip to Western Canada without an extra forward. (Tyler Graovac is week-to-week with an upper-body injury and Trotz said he will not travel with the team).

Stephenson was one of the last cuts at Caps training camp and has a Hershey-best five goals in six games after recording a hat trick over the weekend.